A Geographer’s Review of “The Atlas of Lost Cities: A Travel Guide to Abandoned and Forsaken Destinations”

April 10, 2023

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Author’s Note: What would geography be without mysteries to be explored, and maybe, but not always, solved. Let's explore the unknown, a running theme to the books in this series of posts.

Nearly everyone has read about the city of Pompeii, which was engulfed in minutes by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in A.D. 49, and about Angor, Cambodia, which hosts three million tourists per year, or perhaps Masada, where over a thousand Hebrews committed suicide in A.D. 73, rather than be captured by Roman legions.

But has anyone ever heard of Varosha, a city in Cyprus, that is still sealed off by the Turkish military after they bombarded it into ruins during the civil war of 1974? Or Kantubuk, once an island in the Aral Sea that was home to a vast Soviet biological weapons center? (Unfortunately, due to the draining of the Aral Sea for cotton production, the island is now a peninsula and dangerously more accessible.)

“The Atlas of Lost Cities” by Aude de Tocqueville is ironically subtitled “A Travel Guide to Abandoned and Forsaken Destinations.” A few of the 43 cities are still alive, like Hiroshima, Japan, and some like Angor, Cambodia and Tikal, Guatemala are now tourist destinations. Most of the other stories aren't so bright, and the book can be a dark read at times.

Despite the many tragic stories, the full-page maps are colorful and intriguing. There is a simple base map underneath, then an illustration of the city as the main feature. (The illustrations are way out of scale, but that's not the point.)

This book is a reminder of the ephemerality of our lives and our civilizations. Like all organisms, cities are living beings, and thus subject to the same vulnerabilities and mortality. There is no index, so don't bother looking for Atlantis... yet?

Read the other blogs in this series: 

Check out other Books for Geography Lovers!

Reposted from The DirectionsMag Geospatial Community Blog, an extension of Directions Magazine. Visit us for daily geospatial news, exclusive articles, geospatial webinars, and podcasts. If you are interested in contributing, please email editors@directionsmag.com


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